The Rundown: Re-Examining Cubs-Brewers Rivalry, Almora Asserts Himself, Phillies Writers Turn Heat Up on Harper

I am still fighting that lost hour we gave up to save daylight. The long hours I keep are making the adjustment a little difficult so sorry if today’s column feels a little off. I’m a little off.

Let me tell you something about the Cubs-Brewers rivalry. Despite the way Cole Hamels feels about the subject, a rivalry really does exist, and it’s about to amp up quite a bit. Milwaukee has something the city of Chicago rightfully deserves (I’m not talking about me, but thank you). As newly crowned kings of the NL Central, I don’t think the Brewers are going to go down without a fight.

Brewers fans up here, as well as the entire Milwaukee organization, are just as pissed as Cubs fans because some projection systems not named PECOTA have the Brew Crew finishing in last place this year. That digests about as well as a burnt bratwurst and a glass of Old Style for the residents of Brew City.

“I know the rivalries I’ve had in the past, you can definitely feel it. When you have a majority Cubs fans in the stands, I don’t know if that’s a rivalry yet.” – Hamels

The Cubs finished tied for first last season one single victory at any point in the season would have been enough to change the course of history. One run, one hit, one phoned-in loss of a game that should have been penciled in as victory with even the slightest bit of effort. A four-game sweep at the hands of the Reds June 21-24 really stands out. They only fell one game in the division, but they played like a bunch of bush leaguers in a series that should have yielded two wins, minimally.

The number of missed opportunities has been eating at Theo Epstein’s emotions since his team last walked off the field. This front office has spent all offseason talking about urgency, accountability, self-reflection, and leadership. The players are buying into that message, but now it’s nearly time to get at it. The Cubs are desperate to prove that last season was an aberration rather than the start of an unbecoming trend.

The Brewers will fight to retain their crown. They see themselves as favorites and won’t hear anything different.

That doesn’t mean that a rivalry has ceased to exist with the Cardinals, but I do think some of the shine has worn off, in part because St. Louis has been barely above average the last two seasons. And despite a successful offseason, they still feel like a .500 team to me. I have a friend who is a college baseball coach in Florida and a huge Cardinals fans. His take on the Redbirds is that they aren’t coached very well, frequently play out of position, and will die by sticking with Dexter Fowler too long. He believes they will start slowly, fire manager Mike Shildt after an extended mediocre stretch, and hire somebody more experienced before going on a significant end-of-season run.

That formula seemed to work well for St. Louis last season. One guy lurking in the shadows is for a potential opening is Joe Girardi, particularly if the Cubs give Joe Maddon a contract extension at any point during the season.

But back to the Brewers. They’re no longer the underdog, small-city team that snuck up on everybody last year. That crown is a heavy weight to bear when everybody is gunning for you, and no one knows this better than the Cubs.

Cubs News & Notes

Spring Training Notes

Opening Day is just more than a week away…sort of.

Giants’ ace Madison Bumgarner is still a potential Yankees target.

It’s a shame, but the career-long marriage of Felix Hernandez to the Mariners is not likely to end well.

Speaking of marriages with potential for ugly endings, Phillies writers are already lighting the burners on Bryce Harper.

Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly injured his back while preparing Cajun food. That’s one for the books.

Are the Dodgers thinking of using an opener strategy on Opening Day? If Clayton Kreshaw is able to start the first game of the season he will be on a very restricted pitch count.

Chris Sale may not pitch a single inning in Grapefruit League play but expects to be ready to start the season.

Extra Innings

For my money, the best show on the Cubs new YouTube channel is The Offseason. To see Pedro Strop in his native country talking about his success as a baseball and growth as a human being is some of the best baseball human interest entertainment I’ve seen. As a pilot episode of the series, it definitely sets the bar for future titles, which I expect to be similarly good.


This Week’s New Spins

  1. Greatest Hits by Sly & The Family Stone – I am not usually a fan of greatest hits or compilation albums, but there are a few must-haves for any collection, and this is one. If you are tired of this elongated winter, just play Hot Fun in the Summertime on endless repeat and you’ll start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Picked this one up as a dollar bin pull and I feel somewhat vindicated for buying the Vision Quest soundtrack last week.
  2. Tunnel of Love by Bruce Springsteen – Though largely a solo effort, there are plenty of contributions throughout this long player by the E-Street Band. An underrated, smoking song that aptly portrays the attitude of its lyrics is Spare Parts. It is the best single by the Boss in his post-70’s career, at least in my opinion, and that’s saying a lot.
  3. Stop Making Sense by The Talking Heads – A truncated soundtrack of the concert film adaptation by Jonathan Demme still hits on all cylinders. It starts out with frontman David Byrne singing Psycho Killer with nothing but an acoustic guitar and a drum beat loop played through a boom box, and then escalates from there until reaching full crescendo as members of the band are added with each subsequent song. Brilliant. What a Day That Was, a remake of a Brian Eno/Byrne song from The Catherine Wheel show , is truly a keeper. It’s much sharper here than in its original version.

Tuesday Walk Up Song

Pride (In the Name of Love) by U2 – You can’t feature a month of songs by Irish performers with a few from U2, and this is the best of their catalogue. “For the Rev. Martin Luther King…sing.” It always gives me chills.

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